Valley Green Feast
By Kristen Wilmer, CISA Program Assistant
Published in the October 2012 CISA Enewsletter
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“Personally, I think co-ops are the answer!” says Rebekah Hanlon, who co-owns Valley Green Feast, a local food delivery service serving the Pioneer Valley. “Creativity and sense of self are really valued in a cooperative. I really just think it’s going to change the world!” Valley Green Feast is hoping to change the world on more than one level. “We have this strong guiding force behind us – we want to help change the food system but also the economy,” explains Rebekah, who calls herself the “co-op cheerleader of the group.”
Valley Green Feast, started by Jessica Harwood in 2008, made the transition from sole proprietorship to cooperative two years ago. “What does it take to run this business? A bunch of hard working ladies,” declares their website. Along with Rebekah, Maggie Shar, Molly Merrett and Bekki Szlosek now run the cooperative. They split up managerial responsibilities but share the ‘on-the-ground’ work of packing and delivering. This work-sharing is a cornerstone of their philosophy. “If it’s raining we’re all wet, if it’s hot out we’re all sweating,” says Rebekah. “You have more understanding of everyone’s work if you’re all doing the same thing.”
“The farmers’ market at your door,” is Valley Green Feast’s tagline. Valley Green Feast strives to make it easier for consumers to connect to local agriculture by doing the legwork for them. Customers in towns ranging from Springfield to Greenfield can sign up to have baskets of fresh produce delivered to their door, along with a wide variety of other local products. Valley Green Feast crafts each week’s basket from the produce that’s in season, purchasing it from farms and other local food businesses they believe in.
Their farms are chosen carefully. “We know all our farmers; we know where all our food is coming from,” says Rebekah. “It’s wonderful to be able to make the connections with farms we trust – who we know are farming organically or are just down the road. Most of us do all our shopping through Valley Green Feast, so we need to trust what we’re buying.” Buying local allows them to achieve a much deeper level of trust than would be possible otherwise – many of the farmers they buy from are personal friends, and Valley Green Feast regularly visits all their farms when picking up produce.
Valley Green Feast is committed to making their food widely accessible. They accept EBT and offer a 20% discount to anyone using EBT to pay for their produce. They are active in trying to connect with customers in places where fresh produce isn’t as readily available. They deliver to towns up and down the Valley and recently established a drop off site at the Holyoke YMCA, where customers can pick up produce without paying a delivery fee.
What does the future hold for Valley Green Feast? Their customer base has doubled over the past two years, and they are looking to continue this trend. One way to reach new markets would be to start selling their local produce to schools, and they are enthusiastic about this possibility. They would first have to gain access to a refrigerated truck, though, which is a significant investment for their small business.
The cooperative structure of the business bodes well for the future of Valley Green Feast. “If you have the right people in any business situation you can make awesome stuff happen, but the infrastructure behind a co-op lends itself to sustaining that sort of situation,” explains Rebekah. Because multiple people share ownership and management, “you can plug someone new in and continue the cycle.” In a cooperative like Valley Green Feast, workers both old and new share ownership of the business, and thus have good reason to be invested in their work. “You give someone ownership over something and it just changes the way people’s minds work,” says Rebekah. “Everyone loves being their own boss.”